Reformed Articles

What if Stalin died at 5?
1. I’m going to revisit a vexed issue in pastoral theology. For purposes of this post, I’m using “infant” (or “baby”) as shorthand for anyone below the age of reason.

At one level we don’t have to have an answer to the question since there’s no definitive revelation on the topic. To be sure, the Bible is not an encyclopedia. We don’t get all our information from Scripture. But this is the kind of question that only divine revelation can really answer. 

2. This dilemma is that while we’d be justified in leaving this an open question, it’s a very practical, unavoidable question. So it seems necessary to say something about it. To offer some possible answers to grieving parents (grandparents and siblings). 

3. Here’s a more optimistic treatment:

4. However, for purposes of this post, I’d like to briefly discuss the possibility of infant damnation. That’s the most controversial position.

I suspect much of what makes it inconceivable for many critics is a mental picture of what they think it means. Roasting babies in the fires of hell. Or subjecting babies to psychological torment. 

5. If there is, however, such a thing as infant damnation, that’s not anything like the model I’m exploring. 

i) Suppose Stalin died at 5. Might be from an accident or childhood illness. Doesn’t matter.

His soul passes into the intermediate state. He’s in the same psychological condition after he died than before he died. The intermediate state is neutral in the sense that for him, it doesn’t add anything to make his psychological condition worse. There’s no external factors that torment his five-year-old mind. He’s just in his own mind. The intermediate state might simulate a playground. Nothing unpleasant or painful. A natural enjoyable setting for a five-year-old. 

ii) There seem to be two logical possibilities for the intermediate state of babies. They are frozen at the psychological age at which they die. That never changes (at least during the intermediate state). Or else they psychologically mature in the intermediate state until they have adult minds. They run through the same stages as the living, but without physical bodies. 

iii) Let’s go with the second option. Eventually, Stalin has an adult mind. But suppose his psychological makeup is evil. He’s morally warped. So he turns out much the same way as if he hadn’t died at 5, but lived to be 20. 

So the intermediate state of Stalin, as he passes through the phases of cognitive development, from infancy to adulthood, becomes increasingly dark and hellish. That’s not because he’s tormented by external conditions. Rather, for him, the intermediate state is a hellish projection of his own twisted mind. 
iv) Of course, that revisits the nature/nurture debate. Perhaps my scenario is not entirely realistic. It depends on the presence or absence of common grace and saving grace. Absent grace, residual good will be extinguished and evil will take over. Absent divine intervention, the default condition of human beings is prone to evil. Left to run its course, that’s how it develops. A bad childhood can accelerate and exacerbate it, but doesn’t create it. Babies aren’t a blank slate.